If you wanted to alienate the largest number of Canadians in the shortest amount of time, you couldn’t do much better than defacing a Terry Fox statue with an inverted Canadian flag and your political propaganda. Well, unless you used the cenotaph at the National War Memorial as a campsite and restroom, and literally danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And, of course, it’s hard to imagine that many were thrilled to see both the swastika and the confederate flag flying on Parliament Hill. At least there wasn’t any violence.
That’s the only silver lining for the Conservative MPs who foolishly decided to embrace Saturday’s rally and its toxic brew of hatred and misinformation, and then had to scramble to issue half-hearted apologies and explanations of their behaviour.
Less than a day after meeting with some of the truckers, CPC leader Erin O’Toole was forced to post a series of tweets condemning them for literally dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial on Saturday (where some truckers had actually parked the night before). Edmonton-area MP Michael Cooper, who infamously read a quote from the manifesto of the perpetrator of a 2019 New Zealand mosque shooting that left 51 Muslims dead into the parliamentary record, had to issue a statement of his own explaining that he did, in fact, oppose Nazism (but that the presence of a bunch of swastikas shouldn’t be held against the protesters).
Even someone who wasn’t wearing their glasses could have seen this coming, given the warning signs that were repeatedly flashed as the convoy made its way towards Ottawa. These were not peaceful patriots, as Cooper and the other CPC MPs that attended the rally tried to pretend. It was a disorganized rabble of riled-up miscreants who spent their day cosplaying as revolutionaries and heroes. They threw beer cans at journalists, defecated in public, harassed local business owners, and even stole meals from a local soup kitchen that were intended for the homeless because they refused to wear their masks inside nearby restaurants. And now, after Ottawa cleans up the crap (both literal and figurative) that the demonstrators will leave in their wake, the rest of us will have our own work to do.
These protesters will leave Ottawa in due course, but they’re not going away. They’ve spent the better part of a week being feted as heroes by conservative politicians and commentators, with Postmedia’s predictably desperate attempts to carry water for the convoy culminating in a truly ludicrous op-ed from a former Wildrose staffer in Alberta who compared the truck rally to Woodstock. They’ve gotten name-checked by high-profile celebrities like Elon Musk and Russell Brand, and even won a shout out from Donald Trump at one of his recent rallies. It’s going to be very hard to come down from that high, and a lot of people are going to keep chasing the next one.
On the one hand, these people have already consumed more than enough of our shared political and media oxygen. And there’s an obvious unfairness in how much attention they’ve received, given how small their rally was compared to others held recently. Estimates of the crowd size ranged from just 1,100 to 10,000, but regardless of how many people were there it’s clear it paled in comparison to recent climate protests or Black Lives Matter rallies. Why, exactly, should we pay attention to their demands, especially when they’re neither clear nor coherent?
The answer, I think, is because these people can still do a lot of damage. A recent Mainstreet poll pegged support for the People’s Party of Canada at 13 per cent, and while that’s probably a reflection of the current focus on vaccine mandates and COVID-19, it’s also a warning shot across the bow to all three other major parties. The PPC’s willingness to attack journalists, undermine expertise, and chip away at the foundations of civil society make it an existential threat to our country, one that seems to be growing. It’s going to be hard to put this toothpaste back in the tube, especially when the Conservative Party of Canada seems determined to keep squeezing it out.
Ironically, that job may fall to the person who was the prime target of the rally: Justin Trudeau. It wasn’t really about border mandates for truckers or removing COVID restrictions (especially since they fall under provincial jurisdiction), and it wasn’t about protecting freedom or liberty. It was about hating the Prime Minister in the most visible and visceral way possible. And while that hatred and the ugly visuals it produced will surely help the Liberals in the next campaign, maybe Trudeau shouldn’t be there to lead it.
"It was a disorganized rabble of riled-up miscreants who spent their day cosplaying as revolutionaries and heroes," writes @maxfawcett from @natobserver about Saturday's #truckers rally against #vaccine mandates. #cdnpoli
The only way to put this anger and hatred behind us is with a resounding defeat of it at the polls. For all of his gifts as a politician, Trudeau almost certainly isn’t the person to pull that off. The conservative movement has invested huge time and energy in making their supporters hate him, and it’s paid off. His very presence keeps them enraged and engaged. If our Prime Minister wants to prevent this maple-tinged Trumpism from fully infecting our body politic, he may have to step aside for the greater good — and make way for someone who can finish the job.